Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lost in Tokyo

Let me say first off that if getting lost were a video game, I would have the high score. Worldwide.

I got myself thoroughly lost on Sunday night. Going to the hostel that I've stayed at like 8 times. Sad.

The hostel's in Asakusa, Tokyo. Asakusa is convenient because it's at the end of two subway routes, Asakusa line and Ginza.

Train stations in Japan usually have several exits. And coming out the wrong one can severely throw you off. In Sapporo station, there's like a mile between the Northernmost and Southernmost exits. Ginza line, Asakusa Station is particularly tricky, since it's the end of the line, and you can come in on either track, and have different exits depending on which track you pull into.

So I get off the train, and there's the stairs for Exits 5 to 8 right in front of me. I'm only familiar with exits 3 and 4 on this track, but I have to go against the flow of people- not fun in Tokyo- to get to those stairs. So I just take the ones in front of me. I'll figure it out. Right?


I come out in another train station, which I had never noticed before. The next day, I see the building and realise that if I had come out of any of the other 3 sides, I would have seen something familiar. Of course, I came out the 4th side.

I hate looking lost. Especially in places I should know. So I just kinda picked a direction and headed in it.

Let me paint a quick picture of Asakusa for you. Asakusa is right on the Sumida River. One side of the river is Taito-ku (like a township), the other is Sumida-ku. The trains are all in Taito-ku, right on the river. My hostel is in Sumida-ku. There are like 5 bridges that you can see from the Asakusa Station (Asakusa Line). Each is a different colour. Once you find the river and can see these bridges, you know exactly where you are. And you can't lose a whole river. Right?


As I walk past Asakusa Shrine- which is freaking huge, and I'd never see at night, and is all pretty with lights, but too far off to take a good pic- I realise I'm going in the wrong direction. But I hate to look lost. So rather than head back to the station and coming out another side of the building, I decide to double back by tatking two lefts. One left in, I find a map. Confirming that I'm going the wrong direction.

But where I thought I was headed away from the river, I had actually been walking parallel, and now I am actually headed away, and I have no choice but to turn around. I find myself at the river. At a bridge I've never actually seen before. But I can see the two bridges I'm familiar with off in the distance. The sensible thing to do here would be to walk along the river and cross either the Azumabashi (red bridge) or the Komagatabashi (blue bridge and a straight shot to the hostel), but I continue across the blue-green bridge, Kototoibashi. I figure it's crossing the river parallel to the others, it must come out in the same place. Right?


When I reach the other side of the river, I'm on a flyover and I can see the road I want to be on, but I can't get there. Then I find some stairs, but they go down into this dark park. And while crime isn't a problem here, who wants to walk through a park with no lights? I'll just keep going and take the first right, it has to lead back to the road I cross on the way to the hostel. Right?


I've been walking for a while, thinking I should be seeing something familiar by now, when I pass a building with Higashi Komagata 1 on the side. Yay! My hostel is in Higashi (East) Komagata. You know how New York is a grid with all the streets running one way, and all the avenues running another? And if you're on 9th, you're a road away from 9th, and so you just have to figure out which way and go a road over. Tokyo's kinda like that, only in blocks. The good thing is that if you find yourself in the right district, you can only be a few blocks away. The bad thing is that since it's a square, Block 5 might be North of Block 12 and nowhere near Block 6. But I figured if I keep heading this direction, I'll get there. Right?


Suddenly the buildings say Honjo instead of Higashi Kamagata. I start wondering if the Honjo is the name of the yellow bridge which is one over from the blue one. But I can't turn back, because then I'd look lost. Never mind there's noone on the street to see, because it's 10 o' clock on Sunday night, and even though the next day is a bank holiday, the few people that are out and about or on the Taito side of the bridge, which is the happening side.

I'm pretty sure by now that the road I'm on has somehow circumvented my hostel, and take a right turn. It's surprisingly dark. Japan has this thing against street lights or something. Unless a road is going to have heavy traffic on it at 2 am, they don't seem to think street lights are necessary. I'm still in Honjo, but due to the Block system, I can't tell if it's worse or better. Oh, a sign for Komagatabashi (blue bridge). Thank God! I take another right. Can't go wrong with the sign. Right?

Right! And about damn time too. I'm still grumbling at myself for not going back to the station and starting over, since I don't know I'm on the right road yet. And I'm wishing I could see the "Great Flaming Turd" because that would be a great landmark, if it wasn't on the shortest building in the area. Suddenly I'm on my corner. But by now, I'm so offset, I decide to go to the hostel bar.

The "Great Flaming Turd," on top of the Kirin Beer building. It can only be seen when you're on the river, so it's pretty useless as a landmark. But it's great as a laughingstock.

Turns out pretty well. I chitchat with a bunch of workers from the hostel chain (5 properties in Tokyo) and even make a facebook friend!

And of course, as I make my way home, it occurs to me all the ways this is applicable to writing.

1. When you write your first draft (for pantsers) or your outline (for plotters) you sometimes end up a little off the beaten track. But while you're out in the boondocks, you just might discover a really cool shrine, and decide to come back and visit it.

2. As writers, sometimes it's tempting to include everything. To wander a mile to the East, without a reason to be there. But the reader is interested in getting back to the hostel. They're tired and have to be up early in the morning, and would rather see the shrine when they actually plan on seeing the shrine, rather than when they'd planned on being curled up with a Meg Cabot, nodding off.

3. Sometimes there's an easier way to do things. Do you need to have the MC enroll in a cooking class to show that he/she is a culinary connoisseur? Or could you show that in the obsessively detailed descriptions of meals or the fact that they eat at a different ethnic restaurant once a week? If you can have them come out the Azumabashi exit instead, then you'll only have to walk 10 blocks instead of 50. Your feet won't hurt and you'll be able to wake up on time the next day.

ULTIMATE MORAL: Writers should get lost. Often. You can't learn anything new in a place you know like the back of your hand. Readers are all about the destination. Don't get me wrong, they' love a pretty journey. But going from America to Canada via Mexico probably wouldn't thrill them. Unless there's a really really really good reason for hitting up Mexico first, and they'd actually planned on going there.


Jon Paul said...

After living in Japan for three years, I concluded it's the only place in the universe where three lefts never--and I mean NEVER--make a right.

But yeah, I think writers should make a point to get lost all the time--and so I love this post. In fact, that is the reason I'm going to try writing NaNoWriMo this year like a pantser, although I generally have plotter tendencies.

Let's see how lost I can really get!

Abby Stevens said...

Oh my! I would be terrified of getting lost in a foreign city at night! I understand what you mean though about the different exits for the subway - it's the same way in London. South exits, West exits, North exits, East exits when I got lucky (others were simply 1, 2, 3...), and even then directions didn't seem to correspond with their names. Excellent application to writing, though! We can learn from everything, can't we? :)

Marsha Sigman said...

My head started to hurt halfway into this post.lol I would have had a major pain attack at the second wrong turn. I always look lost and truthfully I can get lost in my own neighborhood.
I have no sense of direction at all. I'm hoping that is not so in my writing.

I bet I could totally find that hostel now if I'm in Japan though.lol

Alleged Author said...

You do much better than I! I get lost around my city, and I've lived here for quite a while (and it is MUCH smaller)!

Postman said...

Oh Claire, you poor thing. I know how you felt. Korea was similar. I've lost bridges. Been in neighborhoods that were composed, basically, of one single sign with the neighborhood's name on it. At least I didn't have to contend with great flaming turds...

I like how you related this to writing. That was positively Zen, madam. An excellent lesson and one I'll try out as soon as humanly possible.

Can't wait to hear more about the conference...